I was walking around San Francisco when I came across this piece of street art. I don’t know the artist, but it was so beautiful that I had to capture it. It represents surveillance — the kind that is enabled by facial recognition.

Whether it is smart cities or online services like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and apps that we use to see a younger/older version of ourselves, we give them our likeness, and they follow us everywhere.

In case you were wondering, I used Ricoh GRIIIx.

May 25, 2022. San Francisco

Spotify is buying Chartable and Podsights, two podcasting-focused analytics companies, for an undisclosed amount of money. Spotify said it would use the Podinsights technology in its broader advertising-oriented network in a news release. 

For those not familiar, these companies work with podcasters and networks to include unique tags that give them insights into podcast listening behavior. Podsights help advertisers understand the effectiveness of their advertising, while Chartable provides valuable insights into the listeners and their behavior. 

Both these acquisitions add up to a smart move by Spotify. The company is trying hard to become the most significant player in the “hearing” attention economy and build a sizeable advertising business. Podcasts are a vital part of this business as they cost less and allow the company to keep a significant chunk of its revenues. In comparison, it has to share the money with record labels, who continue to have a draconian hold over the company.

The record labels get about 70 cents on a dollar from Spotify. In a way, Spotify is smartly using music as lead generation. It takes the user’s attention because the listener wants to stream music and channels it towards other audio forms. It is podcasts today and AI-generated sounds and audiobooks in the future. The longer people stay glued to Spotify’s stream, the more opportunity it has to sell some advertising against the stream. After all, advertising-monetized attention doesn’t discriminate between Joe Rogan, Michelle Obama, Neil Young, or machine-generated lo-fi sounds.

“We want to be the No. 1 global streaming audio player, and that means having everything as much as you could possibly think in audio,” Spotify CFO Paul Vogel said at the MIT Sloan CFO Summit. “In the next five to 10 years, there’ll be 3 [billion] to 4 billion smartphone-enabled phones — why shouldn’t every one of those phones have a streaming audio app on it?” “And if they’re going to have a streaming audio app, let’s make ours the best.” 

In many ways, Chartable and Podinsights acquisitions remind me of Facebook’s under-the-radar purchase of Onavo, the VPN/data tracker. It paid $200 million in 2013 for a company that allowed it to gather deep intelligence into what was happening with various apps — who was hot, who was not, and what was going to be hot. Many sources over the years told me that Onavo allowed Facebook to figure out the potential of Snap even before Snap founders knew what they had on their hands. Onavo data was crucial in making deals for Instagram and Whatsapp, amongst other things.

Podsights and Chartable would allow Spotify to know which podcasts are most effective or have tailwinds and could get famous shortly, giving them an excellent opportunity to either lock up that content into exclusive deals or bring them in-house. And remember, they could use the same data to create copy-cat podcasts — much like how Netflix creates copypasta versions of hit shows from other networks that get popular on its platform. Since Spotify controls the “attention spigot,” it can direct it at in-house podcasts and turn them into big hits. 

“Spotify isn’t just trying to become the biggest name in podcasting (which has heretofore been, but may no longer be Apple),” writes John Gruber. “They’re trying to usurp podcasting as we know it — one of the last and brightest bastions of the open, simple, private, transparent internet — and turn it into a privately-owned, gated, complicated, invasive, utterly closed platform. Spotify is trying to do to podcasting what Facebook did to “having your own website.”

The flipside of the argument is that podcasts and all audio content are existential for Spotify, where the larger platforms, Apple and Google, see them as “nice to have a feature.” Apple, which for the longest time was the leader in the podcasting space, was lazy and never took podcasting seriously. It is not surprising that we are all waking up today and finding Spotify determines how and what we will listen — Neil Young, notwithstanding. 

Daniel Ek, co-founder of Spotify, and Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix, have learned from the master — Mark Zuckerberg: attention is a zero-sum game. If you have it, hoard it, and most importantly, use it to grow your business and destroy your competitors. In a few years, we will wake up and realize the immense impact of these two small tuck-in deals announced today. 

It is always the little things that have a significant impact.

February 17, 2022. San Francisco.

Additional Reading:

  1. Why Spotify needs Joe Rogan and podcasters. Ironically, the Spotify share price has halved over past 12-months and that makes it an acquisition target for a larger company
  2. Young vs. Rogan: Spotify chose audio over music, but even bigger decisions lie ahead [Mark Mulligan]
  3. After reading his 24 points, I get a feeling Anil Dash is talking about Spotify, but in fact, it applies to pretty much every major “platisher.”

What is a Metaverse? There is a real answer — aka the science fiction answer. And there is an answer you will get from Zuck and his acolytes. They are busy rearchitecting the company away from social networking. They are literally putting Meta into the metaverse, as per this report in The New York Times.

Reality Labs is now at the forefront of the company’s shift to the metaverse, employees said. Workers in products, engineering and research have been encouraged to apply to new roles there, they said, while others have been elevated from their jobs in social networking divisions to lead the same functions with a metaverse emphasis.

The New York Times

Say what you may about Mark Zuckerberg, but when he decides to move, he doesn’t give a damn. You do it his way or simply leave the company. Quite a few senior team members are cashing in their checks and quitting the company. My old colleague Wagner James Au in a blog post last year about the Meta-makeover had an interesting comment from an insider.

“I think Facebook has the money and people to throw at the problem,” as they put it to me, “but making 0-1 products as a large entity hasn’t been one of Facebook’s strong suits… it’s been to acquire other products and integrate them into the Facebook ecosystem.

New World Notes

Facebook reminds me of the old Microsoft — the company that would announce a new initiative and the collective technology industry would twitch uncontrollably. It is no surprise that everyone is talking up their Metaverse game.

Metaverse is the new “cloud” or “big data.” It is a new buzzword, that is going to be bastardized into every conversation — no one will let the facts come in the way of fiction. I am waiting for Marc Benioff to announce a SalesforceVerse any day soon!

Here are a few articles that might get you started to get a grip of the hype.

  • Silicon Valley has a Metaverse FOMO, writes John Naughton. It doesn’t matter whether it is dystopian or not — there is money to be made, so everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. [The Guardian]
  • Wall Street hasn’t met a technology buzzword it hasn’t like and wanted to profit from. So why are we surprised that they are all over the “metaverse.” [Fortune Magazine
  • If Zuck says Metaverse, the whole ecosystem starts to get warm and fuzzy. At CES 2022, lot of small players were taking Meta and Metaverse. [SP Global]
  • Metaverse is all about marketing and advertising. The only reason Facebook is all over it. Here is how influencer marketing is going to work in this new space. [Vogue]
  • And in summary, Metaverse must be stopped. [Tribune UK]